David Bruce: Anecdotes About Death

This is good advice: Repent one day before you die. Of course, few of us are aware much in advance of the day that we will die. (Even condemned prisoners often have the date of their execution changed.) Therefore, we should repent our sins each and every day and avoid sin each and every day. Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai told a parable about a King who told his people to be prepared for when he would hold a banquet. Some of the people thought that the banquet would be held far in the future, so they did not bother to get ready for the banquet since they would have time to do so later. Other, wiser people immediately began preparing for the banquet, realizing that although the banquet could be held far in the future, it could also be held immediately. As it happened, the banquet was held quickly, and only the people who were ready were admitted to the banquet hall.

In 1974, music maven Quincy Jones suffered two brain aneurysms that could have killed him. Hospital staff shaved his head so that he could be operated on, and doctors estimated that he had a one percent chance of surviving the operation. In fact, the hospital staff kept his hair in case his family wanted it glued onto his corpse for an open-casket funeral. When he woke up after the operation, he discovered that family and friends had planned an elaborate memorial service for him, so he decided to go ahead with it. After all, his friend Frank Sinatra had once advised him, “Q, live each day like it’s your last. And one day you’ll be right.” Mr. Jones attended his own memorial service with two metal plates in his head, and when he saw all of the talent that had showed up for the service, he thought, “That’s some lineup.”

In 1944, Ed McKeever coached the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame; unfortunately, that year, Notre Dame was no match for a strong Army football team, and even more unfortunately, Mr. McKeever’s father was dying. Before the Notre Dame-Army game, Mr. McKeever told his Fighting Irish that his dying father would be in the hospital, listening to the game on the radio. He also told them to play an offensive game, figuring that would be the best way to at least keep the score close. Unfortunately, Notre Dame kept being intercepted, and Army ran up a big lead. Late in the third quarter, with Army piling up the points, the Notre Dame quarterback told his fellow players in a huddle, “Well, it doesn’t matter what play we run now. McKeever’s old man is sure as hell dead by this time.”

A woman mourned the death of her child, and she went from door to door hoping to find someone who could bring the child back to life. Arriving at a Buddhist temple, she met a priest who responded to her that he could bring her child to life if she would find a family that had never known death, borrow five poppy seeds from them, and bring the poppy seeds to the priest. The woman searched for a family that had never known death, but she quickly discovered that every family had known death. Realizing that death is inevitable, she buried her child.

In Bikini Kill’s early songs, vocalist Kathleen Hanna tends to repeat lines many times. She had a reason for doing this. The sound equipment they played live with was very bad, and she was worried that no one would understand the words, and so she repeated them over and over so that the audience would hear them. Some of the lyrics deserve to be heard over and over — for example, she repeated these lines from the song “Resist Psychic Death” over and over: “I will resist with every inch and every breath / I will resist this psychic death.”

Death is sometimes welcomed rather than shunned. Aesop tells a fable about a woodcutter who worked for many years, chopping wood and then carrying it a long distance. Eventually, he grew tired, and he called for Death, who soon arrived and asked him what he wanted. The man replied, “I want you to take up my burden.”

Copyright 2015 by Bruce D. Bruce

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Free PDF book: William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure: A Retelling in Prose by David Bruce

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Free PDF book: Honey Badger Goes to Hell — and Heaven by David Bruce

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